Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity

By Stuart Munro-Hay | Go to book overview

XII
Material Culture; the Archaeological Record

From the very uneven choice of excavation areas at Aksum and other Aksumite cities, we have inevitably a view of Aksumite everyday life which favours the upper echelons of urban society. Palaces, mansions, large and important tombs, and churches contain the remains of objects from these élite groups, whilst the living equipment of their lesser urban contemporaries (not to mention country-dwellers) has not often been found. Exceptions are possibly Adulis, where the excavators seem to have found smaller houses, though it is possible that these too belong to the outer buildings of a mansion, and at the sites E2 and F (the latter near a church) at Matara. As yet, the results of these excavations are only known through the brief preliminary report of Francis Anfray ( 1974). The series of rooms found by Paribeni ( 1907: plan, fig. 37) at Adulis contained so many gold coins that they hardly seem to have been occupied by the humbler echelons of Adulite society.

However, in spite of this emphasis on the richer groups, certain elements of material culture cross the social boundaries to some extent. Pottery (excluding luxury types) is a good example of this, whilst glass and much of the decorative metalwork can be expected mainly from the élite contexts. To some extent coinage may have been universally used, though obviously gold would have been unlikely to reach the peasant or ordinary artisan in much quantity. By analogy with better-known ancient civilisations, it seems that the copper coinage would have been the common market-exchange medium where barter was not practised, and thus could move freely on many levels, whilst the more valuable coins moved less and were perhaps chiefly employed for major long-distance trade or storage of wealth.



1. POTTERY.

Both fine and coarser ceramic wares have been found in very large numbers (see the various excavation reports in the Annales d'Ethiopie; Anfray 1966; Wilding in Munro-Hay 1989). These were made in a pottery tradition which seems to be particularly Aksumite and to owe relatively little to either the pre-Aksumite period or to foreign influences (but see below). The commonest types are fired to colours between orange and almost brick red, and there are also black or grey wares from different periods. Some less usual wares are

-233-

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Aksum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Chronological Chart. vii
  • I- Introduction 1
  • II- Legend, Literature and Archaeological Discovery 9
  • III- The City and the State 30
  • IV- Aksumite History 61
  • V- The Capital City 104
  • VI- The Civil Administration 144
  • VII- The Monarchy 150
  • VIII- The Economy 166
  • IX- The Coinage 180
  • X- Religion 196
  • XI- Warfare 214
  • XII- Material Culture; the Archaeological Record 233
  • XIII- Language, Literature, and the Arts 244
  • XIV- Society and Death 252
  • XV- The Decline of Aksum 258
  • XVI- The British Institute in Eastern Africa's Excavations At Aksum 265
  • Bibliography 270
  • Index 285
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